alternative music

Music I got recently

The xx – I See You

Like many people, I adored this band’s hushed minimalist debut, but then came the dreaded second-album dilemma: where to go next after you’ve already emerged as a fully formed deal with the sound, image and mood all perfected? More often than not it’s a course of diminishing returns, more of the same but not quite as good. Luckily, on this third album the xx seem to have figured out how to move on by embracing a wider range of influences, samples and vocal loops, and the end result sounds both fresh and unmistakably like the xx. There’s also a greater variety of mood; while it’s not necessarily a “happy” album some songs sound decidedly more optimistic and upbeat. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim may not be great singers in a conventional sense – neither of them has much depth or range – but they know their way around limitations and their vocal interplay still remains enchanting. A couple of songs in the middle of the album sticks closer to the blueprint of the debut, and while they’re fine the best tracks are the ones where the band push themselves.

Seis Cuerdas – Mar Adentro

I rarely ever purchase CDs from the street buskers, but I happened to pass this duo while walking down the Santa Monica promenade in Los Angeles earlier this year, and I found their flamenco guitar music so inspiring and stirring I stuck around to listen and shelled out my last holiday money. That fiery live quality is inevitably dulled on the studio recording, but still it’s an excellent collection of instrumentals. The first track in particular makes me want to grab some castanets and go dancing down the street.

Goldfrapp – Silver Eye

I kinda lost touch with Goldfrapp over the last few years and didn’t think much of the last two albums, but got roped back in with this satisfying comeback. It returns to the electronic dance pop of Supernature, while also referencing their more atmospheric, subdued releases, so it’s basically a combination of everything they do well and there’s something for everyone no matter which Goldfrapp you like best, dreamy and pastoral or dance club and synthy. The opening and standout track, Anymore, with its steady pulsating beat, is vintage buzzing sexy Goldfrapp; while nothing else quite matches it this is a very solid album and Alison’s breathy vocals are fantastic and sensual as always.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Despite being a huge Nick Cave fan, I unconsciously held off listening to this new album knowing the tragedy that had shaped its making, the accidental death of Cave’s teenage son. In hindsight, I think I felt uncomfortable at the idea of getting close to someone else’s raw grief; death has always been a huge theme in Cave’s music but this real-life mourning is something else entirely. As I found out later, the writing and recording for Skeleton Tree had commenced before the incident, and there are no direct references to the loss anywhere on the record. But listening to the album, it’s impossible not to feel its shadow looming over everything like a black cloud, and not see the record as a stark landscape of grief. While harrowing, it’s also a brilliant follow-up to Push the Sky Away, and musically sounds like that album’s darker, more ambient and eerie cousin. Which is just fine by me.

Music I got recently

I should have had this blog years ago, when I was buying up to five albums a week sometimes and my CD collection ballooned over 900. Since then, I cut down my collection by about a third, and got much more selective about my purchases. By a coincidence, the last two I got are both by Australian artists.

chet-faker-album-coverChet Faker – Built on Glass

Yeah late to the party with this one, probably because it took me a while to warm up to the songs I heard played on Triple J. When Talk is Cheap was voted top track in the Hottest 100 poll, I went, ok it’s nice and all, but no. 1? Since then though its saxophone and sexy groove really wormed its way into my brain, especially when I decided that I could use it some day to create a neat bellydance routine. This song and Gold are the clear individual standouts and nothing else quite matches them, but still, Chet Faker’s R&B/soul-influenced electronica makes for a great chillout album.

SIJS-2400Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Give me all your money,
And I’ll make some origami honey

Usually I’m very much a music-over-lyrics kinda girl – if the music doesn’t grab me I can’t get into an artist/band no matter how great their lyrics are; and on the other hand, I can put up with any amount of terrible lyrics if I’m really into the music. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell you what the lyrics for my favourite songs actually are. So this album, which I really love by the way, is an odd one out for me. Not to say that it’s poor music-wise, but the music here is more like a bedrock for Barnett to layer her vocals and lyrics over, rather than being remarkable in itself. The real attraction here is a strong sense of a unique personality, charmingly offbeat vocal delivery (deadpan, sorta-singing-sorta-speaking) and truly remarkable lyrics: wordy, witty, sometimes rambling, sometimes with a more clear narrative, always packed with sharply observed everyday details. Actually, though they don’t sound much alike, this album’s appeal to me is probably not too dissimilar to that of Liz Phair’s Exile to Guyville.

Living in Melbourne, it feels even more special to listen to the songs that are based on your home city. My favourite of the lot is probably Depreston, a melancholic and poignant number about house-hunting in Preston and coming across the previous owner’s possessions. Another favourite is Pedestrian at Best, the rockiest track on the album with stream-of-consciousness lyrics and dry humour. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here, once her style doesn’t have the advantage of freshness; sometimes when an artist appears to be so fully formed on their debut album everything else they do afterwards ends up as diminishing returns. Hopefully she avoids it.